Written by Laura

Monday, January 24th 2022, and Thursday, January 27th 2022

Pedrina Lopez de Paz in the foreground, Paulina Ixtapá in the background photographed in the foreground of the courtroom on January, 24th, 2022. Photo Credits: Verdad y Justicia.

The court reconvened Monday morning to hear statements from the five Maya Achi Women Survivors of Sexual Violence in this case. Although the lawyers had requested a larger courtroom to accommodate the many supporters, journalist, and members of the public who were interested in being present for the decision of the court today, the hearing was held in the same courtroom in the Torre de Tribunales in Guatemala City.

Pedrina Lopez de Paz and Margarita Alvarado Enriquez made emotional statements to the court which the 5 accused men heard as they attended the hearing virtually. Pedrina stressed that although these crimes occurred 40 years ago, the effects still live in her body and affect her to this day. Margarita echoed the pain that Pedrina expressed and added in her statement with strength: “We are all gathered here today and we are here to seek justice for what they have done. I know they are listening.”

After the statements were heard, the court recessed until the afternoon when the judges would reconvene for the final time to deliver their verdict.

Outside the Torre de Tribunales there was a growing crowd of supporters who had come from Rabinal and across the city to show their support for the women. This physical crowd was a small representation of the massive influx of support this case has drawn over the years. For instance, published on the 21st of January, over 140 national and international organizations signed a letter supporting the bravery of the women and calling for a guilty verdict for the accused ex-civil-patrollers.

(Supporters from Rabinal, Baja Verapaz gather in front of the Supreme Court in Guatemala City in support of the Maya Achi Women survivors of sexual violence on the morning of Monday, January 24th 2022. Photo Credit: Este Chep)

Hijxs, a collective in Guatemala City that uses street art as a form of resistance to exercise historical memory, supported the women by creating stencils, writing pieces of the womens’ testimony in chalk across the plaza of the Supreme Court, and creatively altering the protest signs created by the families of the accused men that were reposted near the entrance to the court.

(A signed posted by protesting families of the accused outside of the court house altered. Previously read: ‘the families of the accused are being affected emotionally and are suffering irreparable damage’ changed to read “the Achi women are suffering emotionally and are suffering irreparable damage’ Photo Credit left: Hijxs. Photo Credit right: Este Chep)

At 3 p.m. in Guatemala the court reconvened to deliver the verdict. The hallway outside of the courtroom was filled with media and supporters trying to get one of the few seats. For all those who couldn’t fit inside the room due to COVID-19 health protocols, the verdict was also live-streamed online.

(Photos are taken outside of the court room in the Torre de Tribunales while the women, their legal team, and the press wait for entry. Photo Credits: Este Chep

Once the hearing began, the judges gave an overview of their decision, citing the weight of the survivors’ testimonies, the witnesses’ testimonies, and the expert witness reports that had been delivered.

They found that within the context of the Internal Armed Conflict (IAC), the five ex-civil-patrollers had subjected the women to systematic rape, torture, threats, robbery, and slavery. The court explained there was a clear pattern with which the civil-patrollers would forcibly disappear and murder the women’s relatives in order to ”leave the women alone, frightened, and defenceless at the expense of the civil-patrollers, to sexually abuse them to bend their will.”

The judge read from the verdict that the “rape of women was used as a means to destroy the community. Sexual violence was used as torture, to extract confessions from the women.”

The 5 ex-civil-patrollers, Benbenuto Ruiz Aquino, Bernardo Ruiz Aquino, Damian Cuxum Alvarado, Gabriel Cuxum Alvarado, and Francisco Cuxum Alvarado, were all found guilty of crimes against humanity. For this crime, they were each sentenced to 30 years in prison. Gabriel Cuxum Alvarado was also found guilty of using an assumed name to evade justice.

This guilty verdict is a result of the strength and tenacity of the Maya Achi women who broke decades of silence and have weathered years of impunity and harassment. This verdict represents the strength of the Maya Achi people in recognition of the systematic violence and tactics used by the military to destroy the Maya Achi culture and people during the IAC.

(1: Photo of the supporter from Rabinal. This sign reads “Achi women are memory and resistance” 2: Photo taken in the plaza of the supreme court after the verdict was read. 3: Member of Hijxs writing excerpts of the women’s testimony in chalk in the plaza of the Supreme Court. Photos 1, 2 Credits to Este Chep Photo 3 Credits to Hijxs)

Outside in the plaza the supporters held a rally filled with art, chants, and unity to celebrate the verdict and the strength of the Maya Achi women.

On Thursday, January 27th, the court reconvened to issue the reparations. The lawyers representing the Maya Achi Women presented 26 requests for reparations and they received less than half from the court.

The court granted the following 12 reparations:

  1. Q300,000 in financial compensation for the 5 survivors.
  2. The installation or expansion of health centres by the Ministry of Social Development in the three communities where the survivors live, Xococ, Guachipilín, Buena Vista in Rabinal and Mixco.
  3. Implementation of psychological and gynaecological treatment and medication for the rehabilitation of the survivors including transport and treatment costs in addition to the creation of a treatment, care and rehabilitation program for survivors of sexual violence in Rabinal, to be carried out by the Ministry of Health.
  4. A training program for the survivors and their families in human rights, gender, on complaint mechanisms, and women’s political participation by the Indigenous Women’s Ombudsperson’s Office.
  5. A public and national apology and acknowledgement of responsibility to be broadcast on national television in Xococ by the Ministry of Defense.
  6. Production of a documentary about the women by the Ministry of Culture and Sport and the School of Communication at the University of San Carlos de Guatemala (USAC).
  7. Including the case of the Achi women in the National Core Curriculum. At the local level, the history of serious human rights violations in Rabinal should be taught on the basis of the three judgements of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Ministry of Education is responsible for these changes.
  8. The creation of murals with the names of the 36 survivors, a message of gratitude to the midwives and nuns of San Vicente de Paul, where the Rabinal detachment was located, and another in the Campo Marte. To be completed by the Municipality of Rabinal, the Ministry of Culture and Sport and Ministry of Defense.
  9. The Academy of Mayan Languages of Guatemala will publish the full judgment and summary judgement on all digital platforms of the Guatemalan Judiciary in Maya Achi.
  10. The provision of scholarships for the sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters of the survivors to continue their studies, provided by the Municipality of Rabinal, Ministry of Education and USAC.
  11. Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior provide training for state security forces on gender-based violence.
  12. The judge reported that training has begun to provide Mayan language interpreters in the courtroom, the work being done by the Secretariat of Indigenous Peoples of the Guatemalan Judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to acquire the necessary technology for interpreting into Mayan languages in hearings.

Gloria Reyes, Lawyer with the Rabinal Legal Clinic, stands with survivors in the case in the court room after a hearing. Photo Credits: Este Chep

We continue to stand in solidarity with the Rabinal Legal Clinic and the 36 Maya Achi women. We stand in solidarity with all Indigenous women and women who have yet to see justice for this form of state violence and support the bravery of the 36 Maya Achi women and the Rabinal Legal Clinic for their support in this case. Accused ex-civil-patrollers Pedro Sánches Cortez, Simeon Enriquez Gomez, and Felix Tum Ramírez remain in impunity and have not yet been brought to justice for crimes in this case. We also echo the calls of the Rabinal Legal Clinic that not only material authors but the intellectual authors of crimes against humanity be punished.

Read the report-back from day 12 here.